Ace Combat is a series with a long legacy behind it. It was the pioneer of 3D combat flight simulator games that started to show up on PS1. With every new game, the stakes were raised with an increased focus on a campaign offering thrilling encounters, action set pieces and a story to tie it all together. It was basically the formula for a successful Top Gun game and Bandai Namco continued to deliver on with it.
This generation, if there was one genre that was badly missed, it was air combat flight simulator. Ace Combat 7 was announced first in 2015, so it has taken some time to get out the door. The wait seems to be worth because this new entry easily ranks among the best in the series. It brings back the familiar Ace Combat gameplay with modern twists. It doesn’t matter if you have played the previous Ace Combat games or going into it as a newcomer since this makes for the perfect introduction to the series.
Ace Combat 7 brings back the fictional world setting by focusing on a new plot revolving around the Osean Federation and the Kingdom of Erusea. The campaign offers a lot of lengthy cutscenes that advance the narrative. The writing is not exactly a masterpiece and the story feels silly but it ends up offering many exciting gaming moments. It is par the course for the series, but the effort to mold the story into something sensational should be appreciated here. Most other developers would have dropped it in favor of a more streamlined gameplay approach but Ace Combat 7 sticks more closely to its roots, and this is why it is another great entry in the series.
Ace Combat 7 single player campaign offers plenty of plot twists. It provides an overarching view of the politics that govern this fictional world. What’s interesting is how closely this story also resembles some of the real-world politics and nations in their own conflicts. The lead protagonist is a memorable character that goes through some great character development. This is a meaty campaign that offers several missions but not all of it deserves praise.
The story presentation is great but the mission design tends to drag down the experience later in the story. The controls are not that complicated for newcomers since the game offers some choice here. You can pick from a ‘normal’ or ‘expert’ control system. Normal is easier but it takes the freedom out of controls, and while the expert setting might sound intimidating, it is the recommended choice here because it just feels better. Every aircraft is designed to be different so you can enjoy multiple weapons in them depending on their model. There is a decent amount of aircrafts available ranging from the F-16F Fighting Falcon, F-22A Raptor to even bombers and gunship.
Ace Combat 7 also features an online multiplayer mode, which is a bit bare bones in terms of match types but gets the job done otherwise. The player count is limited to eight simultaneous players, and the two available match types are a battle royale and team deathmatch. Team deathmatch puts you and three others against four opponents, and the team with the highest kill count after a certain period is declared the winner. In a battle royale, it’s every fighter pilot for himself/herself in a periodically shrinking map, and you only get one life. Much like the limited match types, the progression system is also fairly limited. You do, however, unlock different weapons and parts for your aircraft in the hangar. In addition, the multiplayer mode also features customizations that are purely cosmetic, such as new skins, emblems, and nicknames.
Despite the player count being limited to eight combatants, team deathmatch generally tends to get chaotic, as there are missiles flying everywhere, and you’ll almost always find yourself locked on someone else’s radar. The battle royale mode paves way for more interesting scenarios, as the actively dropping player count builds tension and strategy.
By far the most fascinating aspect of Ace Combat 7 is its VR support. It is currently exclusive to the PS4 version and features its very own campaign that takes place four years before the Ace Combat 7’s main campaign. It features returning protagonist Mobius 1, who was originally the main character from Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies. The VR campaign takes the standard Ace Combat experience to a whole new level of immersion. It controls much like space flight VR games such as EVE Valkyrie and the PS4 exclusive Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One VR mission. It’s understandably limited to the first-person view, and head-tracked camera movement makes your view from the cockpit feel natural and intuitive. Moreover, being able to lock-on to enemy targets just by looking at them when within range is probably the greatest addition to the gameplay. It really makes it hard to return to the main campaign afterward.
There are a few drawbacks, however. Firstly, the VR campaign retains much of the visual fidelity of the main campaign, complete with weather simulation, and hence things appear extra pixelated on the PS4 version. The PS4 Pro does improve things a little, but it’s certainly not the cleanest looking VR game. Secondly, the VR campaign is extremely short. There are only three missions, which last around half an hour in total. It’s more of a proof of concept than a full-blown campaign. That said, these missions are worth replaying a couple of times if only to experience the sense of immersion on offer here.
All in all, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a triumphant return to form for the series after a somewhat shaky Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation. It’s a must-have for PSVR owners, but also worth checking out for its main campaign and other extras.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a combat flight action video game developed and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. An entry in the long-running Ace Combat series, it was released for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the PC on January 18th, 2019.
Final Score - 8.5/108.5/10
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a triumphant return to form for the series. It’s a must-have for PSVR owners, but also worth checking out for its main campaign and other extras.